How The Giants Can Win the LCS in 6 #sfgiants #nlcs

Before I break it down, a couple of thoughts:

  • Based on the results it sure looks like the Cardinals are a superior team to the Dodgers. Also, the Giants and Dodgers played each other straight up all year (10-9 in favor of the Dodgers to be fair), so, sure the Giants could have beat them in a seven game series. But man, if it doesn’t feel like the Giants caught a huge break in getting the Cardinals instead. The Giants have always struggled against Clayton Kershaw (apparently the Cardinals have no such issues), and Zach Grienke really had their number this year. Having to face those guys four times in a week was going to be a tall order. Plus there’s the whole rivalry distraction, the Puig/Bumgarner silliness, and the specter of Brian Wilson that no one has to think about now. Somehow, this series feels much more open and winnable.
  • Heading into the 2012 postseason the Giants were platooning X Nady and Gregor Blanco in left field. And then the Giants never faced a left-handed starter in any of their 16 playoff games, which means that Blanco’s glove (and bat) got a lot of time (really all of the time) during the championship run. Imagine if they had to play the Phillies (with Lee and Hammels) or any team with a left-handed starter. Either we’d mention Nady in the pantheon of heroes, or we might not be talking about the potential for a 3rd World Championship right now. I mention that because the Cardinals have nothing but right-handed starters. The Giants have a lefty heavy lineup. Relatively subtle things like this seem to end up playing a large role in the Giants’ success. Blanco (as well as Joe Panik and Brandon Belt) will need to come up big in this series.
  • Along those same lines, it appears that Mike Morse will be available and play in this series. Which raises the question: start him or save him on the bench? Bochy loves to go with what-is-working-right-now in the postseason. Travis Ishikawa hasn’t been setting the world on fire, but it’s worked so far. Morse is unknown at the moment, and having to get your timing back against Adam Wainwright is kind of cruel. BUT, the Giants will need to hit some home runs to win this series. So, do you keep starting Travis because it’s working, he is left-handed, he plays better defense than Morse, and because when Matheny brings in a lefty to mow down the bottom part of the Giants order it would be nice to have Morse around to pinch hit? Or, do you gamble that Morse won’t kill you in the field and can get a hold of one at a key spot? Three run home runs are going to be extremely valuable in this series. Watch carefully how this plays itself out.
  • The only player on the Giants’ roster to not make an appearance in the NLDS was Tim Lincecum. He didn’t even get the call in the 18 inning game. Something tells me, though, that he could play a role in this series. Look for Lincecum to have a Barry Zito moment before this one is done. (UPDATE: Grant thinks it’s a bad idea to have Tim on the roster).
  • Finally, as if you didn’t have enough reason to root wholeheartedly for the Giants, the Cardinals will feature two of Giants’ fans least favorite players: John Lackey and A.J. Pierzynski. Also, Matt Holiday. Good grief.

How the Giants can win in six (by the way, SI and McCovey Chronicles also pick the Giants in six…not sure what that means):

  • Game 1: Wainwright vs. Bumgarner. If I were a fan of some other team, say the Mets, I’d still love to watch this game. There’s been a lot written about “not-the-Cardinals-not-the-Giants-again,” but this kind of pitching matchup is what makes baseball awesome. Watch and enjoy world. As I see it playing out, unless Wainwright really is broken, game 1 and game 5 are coin-flips. It really could go either way, and it will probably be something weird that changes the game. I think the Giants will win game 1 because Bumgarner seems to do better on the road, but lose the rematch at home (see below). I’ll say Giants 3-2.
  • Game 2: Lynn vs. Peavy. My guess is that the Cardinals really wanted Peavy at the trade deadline, but the Giants beat them to it and the Cards had to settle for Lackey. That makes me smile. The Giants have destroyed Lance Lynn in each of the five times he’s pitched against them (including 2 starts in the 2012 NLCS). However, this year’s version of Lance Lynn is better than previous versions. Again, I see this being a coin-flip. This time the Cardinals will prevail to even the series as it heads to the Bay. Cardinals 5-3.
  • Game 3: In the NLDS preview I wrote that the Giants MUST win every Bumgarner start. In this series I actually believe that does not apply. The reason for that comes down to the crucial games 3 and 4 matchups. First, the Giants haven’t announced who is starting yet (well-played Boch). So some of this is a shot in the dark. Second, both teams had surprisingly successful starts in the first round from the likely starters in these games. My tendency is to trust the Giants’ results more than the Cardinals. I think Tim Hudson is more likely to repeat his performance than John Lackey, and Ryan Vogelsong than Shelby Miller. Third, I think Bochy will not start Petit (or Lincecum, ha ha) in these games and have a very short leash with the starters and bring one (or both) of them in if needed. I do think Lincecum could have a moment here, at home, saving the day in a big game. I see Game 3 being Lackey vs. Hudson, with Huddy out pitching the other old dog and the Giants getting a modicum of revenge for the 2002 World Series. Giants 6-3.
  • Game 4: Miller vs. Vogelsong. With the Giants up 2-1 I see Bochy turning to Vogey who certainly earned the right to get another shot with his Game 4 performance in the LDS. Again, though, with a short leash and a call to the ‘pen as soon as trouble starts. I think both starters will be solid the first time through the order, and so who can manage round 2 will be critical. I think Vogelsong will adjust, but Miller will struggle. The bullpens will be called earlier than usual, and the Giants will fight and hang on in a close, tense game. Giants 4-3.
  • Game 5: As I said before, Bumgarner vs. Wainwright, assuming Wainwright is healthy, is a coin-flip. For some reason Bumgarner struggles more at home. Plus, I just don’t see the Cardinals going down in 5. In a very close, low scoring game, the Cardinals prevail and send it back to St. Loius. Cardinals 1-0.
  • Game 6: Lynn vs. Peavy, round 2. Much like the 2010 NLCS, the Giants will miss a chance to clinch at home and have to go on the road to finish it off. Much like 2010, they won’t mess around with a game 7 and they will get it done here. I see Peavy pitching the game of his life, spitting and yelling, and the Giants good mojo against Lance Lynn will once gain prevail. Giants 4-2 (for the 4-2 series win).

One final thought: despite what I just wrote, I see this series being much more fluid than the last round. There will be a million twists and turns. Unlike last time I don’t see any “must-win” matchups for the Giants. I think they have a fairly good chance in every game (no Jordan Zimmerman’s here). Undoubtedly this will be a wild ride, I hope we are happy with the result on the other end!

-SB

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Big Answers

Yesterday we posted 5 Big Questions the Giants face this offseason. Today we try to answer them.

1) What can we expect from Tim Lincecum:

  • a) He continues to suck, the Giants figure out something to do with him (bullpen?), and let him walk at the end of the year.
  • b) He bounces back fully and the Giants have a big decision to make next offseason about what to do with him.
  • c) The Giants try to sign him this offseason at a discount
  • d) The Giants trade him this offseason. His lowered value doesn’t get the same return as a few years ago, but it could a be a good return and it would resolve (a) and (b).

My opinion is that Tim Lincecum is going to bounce back in a major way next year. I think he will be in better shape, I think he will work out the kinks in his motion, and I think he will prove to be a better pitcher than ever (if not quite as dominant) in 2013.

Tim can’t just throw a 95 mph fastball at the top of the zone and come right back with an 84 mph change that drop off the table anymore. But he can be extremely effective by relearning his fastball and by getting his mechanics to a place where he has better control (if less velocity). He is too good, too competitive, and too young to be washed up as a starter.

  • What should happen: I think the Giants should try to sign Timmy this offseason and enjoy the bounce back at a discounted rate.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will stand pat, let the season play out, and make a Lincecum decision next offseason.

2) Can the rotation back up their performance:

A huge part of the answer to this question has to do with Lincecum finding himself. The Giants had their worst ERA+ as a staff this year (95) since 2006. And this was the first year with a below average ERA+ during this run of success. A lot of that was due to Lincecum posting the worst ERA+ of any starter in the big leagues. Like I said, a Timmy bounce-back is the biggest way the whole team improves in 2013.

I also think Madison Bumgarner will have a huge year next year. I’m a huge MadBum fan, and I think the kid just ran out of gas this year. But he’s a big strong kid who will learn how to build strength as the year goes on. I think he takes another step forward which only makes the rotation that much more solid.

I’m mildly concerned about Matt Cain. He threw 250 innings this year, and while the dude is a horse I think some fatigue showed up in the post-season: too many home runs. However, there’s no reason to suggest he doesn’t do what Matt Cain always does: pitch well.

Ryan Vogelsong is also a concern. Late bloomers tend to fall and fall quickly. I expect Vogelsong to be very effective next year, but I think we will see more ups and downs.

Barry Zito is Barry Zito. He’ll have some starts that make you wish you had never turned the TV on and he’ll have some starts that make you think he could win the CY Young again. In the end he will have an ERA just north of 4.00 and win double-digit games. (One caveat here: If Zito hits 200 innings his 2014 team option vests…I would guess they manage that pretty carefully next year).

  • What should happen: the Giants staff should continue to be the strength of this team and Madison Bumgarner will be in the conversation for the CY Award at season’s end.
  • What will happen: I think the Giants will take a flier on a Vogelsong-like pitcher this offseason who will prove to be valuable because Vogelsong will miss time due to injury.

3) Can the lineup stay healthy: The real heart of this question, as I mentioned yesterday, is this…will this be the year we finally get to see Panda and Posey together, at full strength, in the middle of the lineup.

It is obviously impossible to predict health with any reasonable accuracy, but Panda and Posey will be in the 26-27 year old window the next two years, typically two of the most productive years for baseball players. If healthy I think we see a potent 1-2 combo in the middle of the lineup.

  • What should happen: Posey and Panda come to camp next year in shape and highly motivated for personal and team success.
  • What will happen: I think this is exactly what will happen with the addendum that the Giants sign Posey to a long-term deal this offseason.  

4) Will the Giants make the same mistakes from 2010: After the 2010 Championship the Giants just had to bring back Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez. Oops. Aubrey felt necessary because no one knew what to expect from Pablo and there were no other legitimate middle of the order hitters in the Giants lineup. But that was a frustrating signing as it seemed to block Brandon Belt. Freddy Sanchez was blocking no one and even though we all knew of his propensity for injury it seemed like a good idea.

The Giants are in a similar situation with Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Jeremy Affeldt. It is hard to imagine a Giants team in 2013 without those guys on the roster. However, they are all going to be in demand this offseason, and they are not going to be cheap. And they are not exactly young (Pagan being the youngest at 31). I’ve already heard about a Rowand (5 ys/$60 mil) type deal for Pagan, and Affeldt’s market just shot through the roof (no thanks to the Dodgers) now that Brandon League signed a 3 year/$22 mil deal.

TradeRumors has the Giants bringing back all three. I would love to see the three return, but I do wonder if the Giants will end up signing contracts that they later regret. I can’t imagine Scutaro getting more than three years (it really should be 2, with an option at most), which I think is ok, but Pagan for 5? Yikes! Affeldt at $8-10 million a year? Whoa!

Complicating matters is that the Giants have top prospects at CF and 2B. Gary Brown and Joe Panik seemed locks to make at least an appearance in 2013 (if not the opening day roster) after 2011, but they both had years that raised some questions. They cannot be expected to make an impact in 2013. But by 2014? Sure. I’d hate to see them blocked.

Affeldt is a huge weapon, but the Giants have two other lefties coming back next year (Lopez and Mijares). They also have Dan Runzler who actually could fulfill the role Affeldt plays (lefty who can get righties out too) if he can stay healthy.

All of this shapes up to be quite fascinating.

  • What should happen: The Giants should bring them all back, but at reasonable deals. I’d be ok with Scutaro on a 2-year, $18 million deal (with an option for a third), Pagan for 3 years at $36 million, and Affeldt for 2 years at $15 million.
  • What will happen: The Giants will bring them all back, but overpay severely, especially for Pagan.

5) Will the Giants make a splash in Free Agency: Assuming the above happens, the Giants will only have one significant hole and that involves Left Field. (Amazing trivia note from Baggs: did you know the Giants biggest FA signing last year was Ryan Theriot at $1.75 million. They spent a ton of money on existing guys, but that still caught me off guard).

The Giants have come up in a few Josh Hamilton rumors and there is always the possibility that another Championship could lead to (over)confident spending.

The answer to this question really lies in what happen with Scutaro, Pagan, and Affeldt, especially Pagan. If Pagan goes elsewhere the Giants might jump in on someone like Michael Bourn or BJ Upton.

The bigger question here is this: do the Giants take a flier on Melky Cabrera? Do they utilize a Blanco/Nady platoon (or some other right-handed, power hitting outfielder)? Do they have another trick up their sleeve?

  • What should happen: Assuming the “big 3” return, I think the Giants should bring back Cody Ross and use him in a platoon with Gregor Blanco in left field.
  • What will happen: This is the hardest one for me to predict and so much of it has to do with the other impending free agents. I don’t think the Giants will spend big, especially on a left fielder, so I do see them considering some kind of a platoon here, but I honestly have no idea how this one shakes out. I also wouldn’t count out a Cabrera return.

There you have it. I’m sure this will all get revised and mixed up as things progress, but that’s my very early assessment of this offseason. Good luck Sabes!

(SB)

Game 3: Assorted Thoughts

1) Remember at the beginning of the post-season when it was absolutely obvious to everyone that Ryan Vogelsong would be left out of the rotation and go to the bullpen because he had some experience there. Every team that wins the World Series needs at least one starting pitcher who can dominate and eat innings. Cain was the obvious choice, and while he hasn’t pitched poorly, the man has been Vogelsong. Crazy.

2) Joe Sheehan points out that there just aren’t a lot of tactical decisions to be made by the managers in this World Series. The Giants simply get ahead and stay ahead. A couple of thoughts here…Bruce Bochy is the best manager I’ve seen at managing with the lead. This is not as easy as it might seem (see Baker, Dusty 2002). While there’s not a lot of second guessing to be done, I do think Leyland blew it by hitting Omar Infante 9th. Maybe that’s how they always do it against right-handers, but the dude has ownage on Vogelsong (9 for 13 after Game 3), and had been swinging well in the first two games. Quintin Berry looked overmatched all night. Thank you Jim!

3) One more thought on tactics. As I mentioned earlier this post-season the Giants have not faced a left-handed starting pitching once. The Cardinals only had one left-hander on their roster. The one big tactical question for the Giants this post-season was: what to do with a left-handed starter? Do you put Nady in left instead of Blanco? Do you use Arias at short instead of Crawford? Do you put Posey at first and catch Sanchez so that Belt sits? Do you at least try to break up the three lefties in a row at the bottom of the lineup? Bochy has never had to answer any of those questions. Think about all the big moments provided by Crawford and Blanco, with the bats, sure, but also defensively. Nady doesn’t catch those balls in left, and Arias doesn’t cover the same ground or make the turn the way Crawford does. So, thank you Reds, Cardinals, and Tigers for making this an easy decision.

4) One of the most remarkable things I’ve learned this post-season is that JT Snow had the record for most hits (22) before Pabo broke that record last night. I remember JT playing well in 2002 but I would have guessed Rich Aurilia had the record not JT.

5) I know that Tim Lincecum is going to be a starter next year (see the third section of this article). I also know that the biggest way the 2013 Giants can improve is by Tim regaining form and reclaiming the ace title. But, man, how cool is it watching him come out of the bullpen. There is a part of me that would love to see the Giants take a shot at someone to be the 5th starter, and then turn Lincecum into a good, old-fashioned bullpen ace. I think he could pitch 130-150 innings out of the ‘pen and get himself into the convo for the CY Young. Small sample size, but here’s what he’s done this post-season out of the ‘pen: 13 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 17 strikeouts. That’s a 0.69 ERA and a 0.46 WHIP. Nasty.

One more win please!

(-SB)

Week in Review (5/21-5/27)

Results:

4-3 (25-23, 7.5 GB in NL West)

4-3 W @ MIL; 6-4 W @ MIL; 8-5 L @ MIL; 14-7 W @ MIA; 7-6 L @ MIA; 5-3 L @ MIA; 3-2 W @ MIA

Giants go on a seven game road trip, and a weird one at that (Milwaukee to Miami), right at the end of playing 20 games in 20 days and win a three game series and split a four gamer. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? And yet, there is something unsatisfying about this week. Maybe it was Lincecum giving the game away on Friday or the offense, which was potent most of the week, getting shut down by Mark Buerhle, but is sure felt like this should have/could have been a 5-2, or even a 6-1 trip. Which is kind of how the whole season feels: we’re doing ok, but it really seems like we should be doing better. More on that later this week…

Hitter of the Week:

There are actually a number of great performances to highlight: Posey hit two home runs and had 8 RBI, Pagan hit .348 and drove in 7, Arias hit .345 and smashed his first home run, and, of course, Melky did it all this week batting .452, hitting 2 home runs (plus 3 doubles and 2 triples), driving in 8 runs, stealing 3 bases, and scoring 12 times (with a nice little 1.371 OPS).

But, I am giving hitter of the week to Gregor Blanco for two reasons: one, I’ve talked about Melky enough, and two Gregor’s pretty darn good! It’s like Andres Torres all over again. He gets hits, walks a ton, steals bases, and sees a lot of pitches. That’s what you ask for from your leadoff hitter. He’s made the lineup deeper and stronger by allowing Pagan to hit down in the order. Can’t wait for Pablo to get back because this team might actually have a good offense when all the pieces are together!

Pitcher of the Week:

Matt Cain went 2-0 with a 3.29 ERA this week, and is generally pretty awesome, but check out the bullpen numbers for the week. Affeldt, Casilla, Romo, Edlefson, Loux, and Hensley combined to pitch 20 innings this week. They allowed 21 baserunners (a 1.05 WHIP) and had a collective 0.00 ERA! They struck out 22 batters and walked 9. The only blemish on the bullpen all week were the 4 runs Javier Lopez gave up in the blowout win against Miami (no harm, no foul). He came back strong yesterday, striking out Logan Morrison in a big spot. Hats off to the bullpen for their dominance!

Looking Ahead:

The Giants have three at home against Arizona (Arizona again!) and then, mercifully, have a day off before starting a four game home series against the Cubs. Hopefully they can hang in there against the snakes, and beat on the Cubs…still waiting for that 5-2/6-1 week of dominance.

(-SB)